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Thinking long term
Old 01-04-2007   #1
Rafael
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Thinking long term

For the past year or so, inspired by Alex Webb's book "Crossings," I have been intrigued by the idea of pursuing a long term photo project (Webb photographed the areas along the Mexico/US border over a period of close to thirty years. If you haven't seen the book, I strongly recommend it). I am in search of a subject that I could photograph over a period of at least a decade or two, maybe longer.

My problem is that, after thinking about this project for a year, I still have not been able to settle on a subject. The range of possible subjects for such a project is almost endless. I could focus on a particular place, on an idea, on an emotion, on a colour, on a type of person, on a time of day, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Of course, the subject needs to be somehow part of my life. It needs to be something that I want to spend years photographing. I just haven't quite figured out what it should be yet.

So I have decided to do my own PAW. I won't be posting it anywhere. I'm simply going to choose one photograph per week for the next year. My hope is that I will be inspired by some theme or some subject that will be apparent in the fifty-two photographs that I will have assembled.

Are any of you pursuing long-term photographic projects? Does anyone wish to share their experiences with such a project? How did you choose your subject? How did you, or how do you plan to, display the final results? Any words of advice?
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Old 01-04-2007   #2
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Rafael, got kids?
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Old 01-04-2007   #3
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Not yet...
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Old 01-04-2007   #4
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For those who have not seen it:

http://inmotion.magnumphotos.com/essays/crossings.aspx
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Old 01-04-2007   #5
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rafael, i have gone the long term route with my 'whyte avenue' series.
i have been shooting in that same small are for years now and it still draws me in.
it chose me though rather than me choosing it. i have lived in the area, off and on for years, and i visit it a few times a week, for coffee with friends or shopping of just an hour of shooting.
it is my obsession to capture what it mans to me on film.
i have yet to do that well though and thus the obsession increases.
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Old 01-04-2007   #6
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Rafael, you're right that your project has to be part of your life, and must intrigue you or be important enough to you to involve your efforts thoroughly over a period of time. The more meaning it has for you, the more meaningful the results are likely to be.

There are certain subjects that have been my projects in the past, and I am still "sensitive" to them when the opportunity comes up. Manikins (the more realistic looking ones) fascinate me in what they say about humankind. Geometric shadow designs where the shadow of an object seems more solid and "real" than the object itself. And I've been documenting instances where I see in use a freeware font I designed years ago (it keeps popping up). Old projects seem to have a way of hanging on.

Several years ago I transcribed all my old 3x5" file cards to the computer; each card representing data for one roll of film shot since the mid-1960's. For complete info I often had to refer to contact sheets, prints, and negative files. In the process of looking over all this old stuff I found that the pictures that really grabbed me were the ones with people, or about people. Those that had a strong human-interest element are more memorable.

So at that point I resolved to concentrate on people pictures. But I admit to some shyness and reservation about poking my camera in others' faces. It seemed easiest to "victimize" non-strangers; those who knew who I am... Like those with whom I had business. In their place of business I was a customer and due polite treatment, further they were stuck and couldn't escape! Perfect way to start.

Clearly my new project was "people at work, or at least doing something." I've pursued that project for several years now, finding RF gear ideal for this. I think now I've mostly "done that" and need to find a way to expand the project or take it to another level. Even though I've gained the confidence in my "gift of gab" to snap strangers too.

So, there's my experience, which may or may not be helpful to you! Good luck...
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Old 01-04-2007   #7
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Yes, I do long term projects.

Some projects I keep to myself, others are more "public" and are explained here: http://shardsofphotography5.blogspot.com/ .
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Old 01-05-2007   #8
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I haven't 'started' any long term projects as such. They all start (in my mind) short, then after time one realizes there's much to do. If the project engages a genuine and real interest in you, then you'll have no trouble in keeping with it as much as it's needed.

And in the meanwhile, new ideas and sub-interests will pop up, and feed several small / shorter projects.

And as for the choice of subjects I'm afraid I have no clue. The ones I keep on with are usually those whose work make me feel... good.

And finally, don't feel bad if in the end you end leaving a project, a rotten apple is less harmful if put aside from the rest.

Good luck !

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Old 01-05-2007   #9
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Thank you very much for the advice so far.

Joe, I have viewed and enjoyed several of your Whyte Ave. photographs. That's exactly the sort of project I have in mind.

Remy, I really enjoyed reading through your blog. Some of your projects sound spectacular. I would particularly love to see some images from the micro finance project once you get going on it.

Dougg, I know what you mean about human interest photographs. My project will undoubtedly involve human subjects.

Taffer, thanks for the words of encouragement. I guess that choosing a subject for a long term photographic project is really about discovering the intersections between one's photography and one's deeply held interests.

Again, thanks to all for your input.
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Old 01-05-2007   #10
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I'd stop thinking long term. I don't think you can possibly decide on a long term project out of the blue.

Keep taking pictures and working on other projects... Sooner or later you'll most likely discover a tendency in your short-term projects, or maybe one of these 'short' projects will just keep going and going... And there's your long term project.

I don't think you can just pick one, artificially - it has to grow on you, organically. Good luck.


ps. I'm sure Simon Larbalestier will be able to offer you more insight in long term projects, if he reads this.
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